Stress Women In Women Social Perception
October 10, 2013

Stress Sweat Changes How We Perceive Women

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Proctor and Gamble, makers of Secret brand deodorant, have partnered with researchers to understand the effects of stress sweat and perception. According to lead investigator Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH with Monell Chemical Senses Center, people can smell 'stress sweat' - that perspiration we release when we find ourselves in anxiety-inducing situations.

What’s more, the research found that a person’s perception of another individual with stress sweat can be significantly altered, especially if the person experiencing stress sweat is a woman. This, in turn, could affect the stressed woman’s confidence or judgement.

This results of the scent study are now published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Stress-induced sweat, the worst smelling of the three causes of sweat, can occur unexpectedly at any point in the day, often becoming a vicious cycle,” explained Dr. Susan Biehle-Hulette, Procter & Gamble and Secret brand senior scientist in a statement.

“Research demonstrates there are three causes of sweat: physical exertion, environmental heat and stress. Sweat caused by physical activity (internal thermal stress) and environmental heat (external thermal stress) are produced by secretions from the eccrine sweat gland, while stress (emotional) sweat is produced by secretions from the eccrine and apocrine gland.”

When this sweat mixes with bacteria, it produces unpleasant odors. This is particularly troubling since previous research has shown that people can instinctively react to another person’s emotions based on scent.

To conduct this research, Hulette and Dalton asked 44 women to provide them with three sweat samples: sweat from exercise, sweat from stress and sweat from stress while wearing Clinical Strength Secret deodorant. The researchers then took some baseline measurement of the women in a climate controlled room to reduce any chance of sweating.

Next, another researcher asked each of the women to take a Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which includes asking volunteers to spend five minutes preparing a speech, five minutes performing mathematics in their head, and five minutes giving the speech in front of an audience.

Following the TSST, the volunteers were given a survey and asked to report how they felt during the test. Sweat samples were then taken from the women before they were asked to begin the exercise portion of the study. Sweat samples and mood ratings were gathered again after the women spent 15 minutes riding a stationary bike.

The researchers then gathered a panel of 120 men and women and shared with them the sweat samples as well as videos of women working at home, in the office or running errands. The panel was then asked to rate how stressed each of the women appeared.

The study found that women who wore their Secret brand deodorant were viewed as less stressed and more confident, trustworthy and competent than the other women. Their research also showed that men are more likely to perceive women with untreated stress sweat as being less confident, trustworthy and competent than other women.

“Researchers have studied the impact of stress sweat on emotional states and brain activity, but we have not previously evaluated how it influences social perception,” explained Dalton. "For the first time, we have found that stress sweat odor impacts overall judgments of perceived confidence, trustworthiness and competence."

Earlier this year, research from the University of Bristol found that most humans don’t carry the gene responsible for underarm odor, and that those who do, ironically, are less likely to apply deodorant.